Last month, the Coalition had the pleasure of welcoming our first international member, Namati. Based out of Washington, D.C., Namati is a nonprofit organization committed to placing the law in the hands of the people. Namati situates grassroots legal advocates, also known as “community paralegals,” that work to protect citizens from multiple issues. These challenges span from preserving community land, citizen’s rights and health to exposing environmental injustice. They promote learning and collaboration with practitioners in grassroots organizations worldwide and work to advocate for policies and reforms. We spoke to Alayna Chuney, Environmental Justice Consultant for Namati, to learn more about their purpose.
Tell us about your organization and your mission.
Namati is a Sanskrit word that means “to shape something into a curve”. Martin Luther King Jr. said that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice”. We call ourselves Namati because we’re dedicated to bending that curve.
Namati is a global organization dedicated to legal empowerment. We focus on “community paralegals”, sometimes called barefoot lawyers or legal empowerment advocates, who demystify law and help people exercise their rights. Namati works with community paralegals in 8 countries and hosts the Global Legal Empowerment Network, made up of over 1500 groups from 130 countries.
Our mission is to build a global movement of grassroots legal advocates who give people the power to understand, use, and shape the law. These advocates form a dynamic, creative frontline that can squeeze justice out of even broken systems.
Legal empowerment advocates treat their clients as empowered citizens rather than victims requiring an expert service. Instead of “I will solve this problem for you,” our message is: “We will solve this together, and you will grow stronger in the process.”
What is one of your current projects you are the most excited about?
This is Namati’s first attempt to support grassroots legal empowerment in the U.S. We have a huge respect for the environmental justice movement here, and we look forward to working with community activists and organizations that are passionate about the environmental justice movement. Namati seeks innovative ways to develop and manage environmental regulation so that they achieve better environmental compliance. We experiment with interventions at the policy level and with institutions and communities. Our program will focus on environmental justice communities in Maryland and D.C and our goal is to create a case mapping system that will allow organizations to effectively track environmental injustices and figure out the legal tools necessary to redress the issue.
What issue area do you hope to focus on more of in the future?
Namati hopes to focus on environmental issues that impact low-income and minority communities. Our main focus right now is clean water and clean air, but we are realizing that safe housing and lead is a big issue in environmental justice communities and may be something in the future that we look at.
What do you hope to gain from being a member of the Coalition?
Namati hopes to gain lasting relationships with members of the Coalition. There are a ton of resources that the Coalition provides and we would like to use those resources to help us fulfill our mission of fighting environmental injustices. Being a part of the coalition will also allow us to partner with like-minded organizations and to learn about important issues surrounding clean water.